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Autonomous VehiclesNews

Fear not the robo-apocalpyse, analysis of autonomous trucking suggests

A study released by autonomous truck startup Ike suggests that instead of eliminating jobs, some approaches to automation shift the task from long-haul to short-haul jobs for drivers.

Self-driving trucking startup Ike has released an economic analysis showing that instead of eliminating truck driving jobs, Ike’s approach to automation shifts the task from long-haul to short-haul jobs for drivers. 

The study, conducted by Yale economist Dr. Charles Hodgson, suggests that 210,000 long-haul driving jobs could be replaced by automation by 2030.

But the model also finds Ike’s approach could create nearly 140,000 local truck driving jobs during that same period.

Further mitigating the losses from the long-haul sector, Hodgson’s analysis also projects 78,000 retirements from that sector of the industry in the next 10 years.

Driver angst

The automated trucking future has generated plenty of sturm und drang, with technologists, labor groups and even presidential candidate Andrew Yang forecasting a profession decimated by self-driving commercial vehicles.

“The first thing I get asked at job interviews, barbeques, is this question: ‘Aren’t you putting truck drivers out of work?’” Ike co-founder and CEO Alden Woodrow told FreightWaves.

“There’s this idea of the robotic apocalypse. But if you make a reasonable set of assumptions and apply the approach we are taking to trucks, we think there could be a pretty good outcome for drivers.”

So what are the assumptions? 

First, Hodgson’s model uses the Ike approach as a baseline. Under that model, autonomous trucks focus solely on highway driving, leaving human drivers to handle all non-interstate transportation.

Central to the model is the idea of transfer hubs, where loads are exchanged between self-driving trucks and human-driven trucks.

In that scenario, an increase in automated miles on the highway actually creates local miles driven by truckers. Hodgson’s analysis assumed an average of 25 miles of local driving on each end of a journey.

Crunching the numbers

Among the study’s other assumptions are that automation will roll out gradually in different parts of the country, and that the number of long-haul truck drivers in the United States has been vastly overstated, registering in the hundreds of thousands, not the often cited 3 million, a figure that actually refers to drivers of all sorts: short-haul, garbage truck drivers and the like.

Hodgson bundled these assumptions with government data about the demographics of truck drivers, trucking supply and demand, as well as the cost of trucking.

He then estimated  how many individual jobs would shift from long haul to short haul by dividing the mileage projections by the number of miles truckers drive annually.

The results yielded an upfront job loss, offset by retirements and the addition of new short-haul jobs.

The Ike model

Like many company-sponsored research studies, the Ike analysis might appear biased in favor of, well, Ike, inasmuch as the results validate the startup’s approach to autonomous trucking.

But the study builds on other recent reports dialing back some of the fear around automation, suggesting it won’t make truckers obsolete.

And if the Ike study is self-serving, it is consciously so. The results are “absolutely connected” to Ike’s transfer hub model, Woodrow said.

While some analyses examining the (dire) impact of automation on drivers “are very rigorous and thoughtful, they assumed that one automated truck is equal to one lost driver,” he explained. “We’re trying to preserve a role for drivers.”

That said, Ike is not claiming the numbers are exactly right. “If you change the assumptions, you change the answers,” Woodrow said.

To broaden the discussion, the startup is open sourcing all of the code and the data from Hodgson’s analysis on Github.

Even assuming the numbers are correct, plenty of concerns about the impact of automation on drivers remain: for example, whether those short-haul jobs are going to be good jobs and what wages they will pay.

“How do we make sure that the people who are shifting work from long haul to regional home operations, that those are still high-quality jobs?” Woodrow mused. “That is a good conversation to have.”

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Linda Baker, Staff Writer

Linda Baker is a FreightWaves staff reporter based in Portland, Oregon. Her beat includes mobility, emissions regulations and autonomous trucking. Please send tips and story ideas to lbaker@freightwaves.com.

2 Comments

  1. The hypothesis is flawed , in my humble opinion .

    Replacing “long haul” truck drivers with autonomous “long haul” trucks wouldn’t increase local truck driving jobs . It would remain the same all depending on demand . What increases truck driver “jobs” is the amount of freight needed to be picked up and delivered in regards to DEMAND, ECONOMICS 101 / SUPPLY & DEMAND !

    The amount of freight needed to be picked up and delivered is related to the economy aka demand ,not autonomous trucks nor long haul trucks .

    Autonomous long haul trucks leading to an increase in local truck driver jobs Hypothesis, REFUTED !

    Nice try though , LOL !

    In my humble opinion ………….

  2. Furthermore ,according to Noble1 statistics( my own ) autonomous trucks are in fact CURRENTLY REDUCING truck driver jobs LOCALLY !

    Examples :

    TERBERG : AutoTUG
    For Yard Automation

    KONECRANES :
    “Konecranes is pleased to announce that we now supply automated terminal tractors (A-TT). Terberg will be our partner in this effort, as a certifed supplier of terminal tractors. Konecranes will supply the automation technology as part of turn-key automated container handling delivery. We can now supply a winning horizontal transport solution — covering A-SPRINTER, AGV and A-TT — to meet the automation needs of every container terminal seeking fully automated operation.”

    TuSimple: Self-Driving Terminal Tractor

    VDL secures a mega order: 80 automated guided vehicles for Singapore
    27 March 2019

    Automated Terminal Tractor
    9 February 2018
    “Katoen Natie will purchase another 11 of these types of driverless trucks”

    Chinese Port Goes Full Robot With Autonomous Trucks and Cranes
    “Caofeidian is set to become the world’s first fully autonomous harbor by the end of the year. The US-Chinese startup TuSimple, a specialist in developing self-driving trucks, will replace human-driven terminal tractor-trucks with 20 self-driving models. A separate company handles crane automation, and a central control system will coordinate the movements of both.”

    “Volvo has already lined up its first commercial pilot program with a company in Norway called Broennoey Kalk AS, in which the Vera truck will shuttle limestone from a mine to a nearby port. 
    Volvo will be responsible for not only providing the trucks, but also setting up the infrastructure which includes a monitoring tower, a remote driver and vehicle charging, as well as providing maintenance and insurance. In turn, Broennoey will pay Volvo per ton of limestone transported. It’s kind of like a cross between a car subscription program and a usage-based insurance program.
    This makes the operation low-risk for the client since it’s not paying for work that’s not being done, and Volvo is making money during what would typically be another test phase for an already expensive-to-run program. It’s kind of brilliant.
    The pilot program with Broennoey Kalk AS is set to begin in the winter of 2019.”

    And what about mining truck driver jobs ?

    Suncor , Vale , Rio Tinto , Teck Resources , all using autonomous mining trucks .

    TRUCKS: SMS deploys largest Komatsu autonomous truck in Canada

    All those “local” trucking jobs ,poof , gone with the wind due to self driving haul trucks ………….

    Therefore autonomous trucks ARE IN FACT CURRENTLY reducing many “local” truck driver jobs at Terminals(yards) , Ports, and Mines , and soon long haul as well .

    In conclusion : Ike’s model doesn’t “appear” to be bias , IT IS CLEARLY BIAS and absurd !

    In my humble opinion ………..

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